Big Winners at Academic Decathlon

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Bottom row, from left: Hamida Mahmud (student coach), Hana Kong (student coach), Shagun Goyal, Elysia Eastty, Sindhura Seeni, Riki Higashida, Celine Ta. Top row, from left: Julia Howelman (Granada Hills Academic Decathlon team administrator), Spencer Wolf (coach), Diego Ramirez (student coach), Joon Lee, Austin Kang, Cliff Ker (LAUSD Academic Decathlon coordinator), Eugene Lee, Harsimar Dhanoa, Nicholas Weber (coach), Mathew Arnold (coach), Jim Hatem (coach), Ken Scarberry (executive director, California Academic Decathlon).

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By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR IN CHIEF

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It was victory for Riki Higashida and the other members of the Granada Hills Charter High School Academic Decathlon team, which claimed first place in the national Academic Decathlon competition in Charlotte, N.C. on April 30. This was the 12th straight year that an L.A. Unified School District-affiliated school has won.

“I couldn’t believe it at first. I thought I was dreaming,” said Higashida. “Then once I saw our school’s name up there. All we’ve been working for — we won it, we got it.”

Riki Higashida accepts a Gold Medal in mathematics.

The Academic Decathlon is a team competition that challenges students in 10 categories: art, economics, essay, interview, language and literature, math, music, science, social science and speech. This year’s theme topic was the Great Depression.

The other members are Harsimar Dhanoa, Elysia Eastty, Shagun Goyal, Austin Kang, Jiyong “Eugene” Lee, Joon Lee, Shindhura Seeni and Celine Ta. Coaches are Matt Arnold, Nicolas Weber and Spencer Wolf. The nine pupils scored 52,113.5 points out of the 60,000 possible, and bested 35 other schools in this year’s finals.

Although it is a team competition, awards are also given for individual achievements. Higashida was fifth overall in the varsity division and received a Gold Medal in mathematics. He traveled to Charlotte with his parents, Neil Higashida and Donna Sato Higashida, and brother Bryan.

When they returned to LAX, they were greeted by camera crews, and the school on Monday staged a rally for the victorious team.

“They had the ceremony for us. It was really nice. It felt good to have support of school, friends and family,” said Higashida.

Higashida said he would recommend Academic Decathlon for the lessons it has taught him in perseverance. He will be attending community college in the fall and hopes to eventually transfer to UCLA.

“Before Academic Decathlon I wasn’t very motivated. I didn’t have a drive to get my studies done,” he said. “If you ever have that doubt in yourself, if you want to challenge yourself, I would say sign up for Academic Decathlon.”

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